Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:2-12
Seminary Senior: Jordan Bence
When you think back to the first years of your education I’m sure that there are plenty of good memories for you to ponder and reminisce about. I’m also certain that there might be some that you would like to forget. Maybe it was a certain subject matter that you really struggled with, or a teacher that you didn’t see eye-to-eye with, or maybe an exam that still haunts you to this day. Very much like you, I have those good and not-so-good memories. As I think back to my grade school education at St. Matthews I can easily say that the good memories outweigh the rest. But there are definitely some that I still think about even to this day, and more often than not get a good chuckle out of. One of those memories took place in the basement of this church when I was in 8thgrade getting ready to be confirmed. I remember how much I absolutely loved that class. Out of all my classes I looked forward to it the most. Taking time out of the day to open up to God’s Word, to grow in the understanding of his unconditional love for me. There was nothing better. But as the year came to a close my love for the class was replaced by stress as we were told that we needed to take a final exam in order to complete the class. If there is one thing I am terrible at it is taking tests. I remember spending the entire weekend leading up to the exam memorizing all the terms, true/false questions, commandments and their meanings, articles, everything. Then came time for the test. Everything was going great until I came to the seasons of the church year. I remembered the “free-bees”, Christmas and Easter of course, and could remember enough about Advent, Pentecost and Lent to write something down, but then I saw it; the dreaded blank titled Epiphany. I froze up. After all my studies I couldn’t remember for the life of me what Epiphany was about. I remember looking up at Pastor Schroeder as he waited to receive my test thinking, “Oh please, Pastor Schroeder, don’t fail me from catechism because I forgot what Epiphany is.”
For some reason I have always remembered that test. Therefore, I thought it was quite ironic when Pastor Pagels gave me a call last year asking if I would be able to preach for Epiphany. As I thought about it more I realized that 8thgrade me probably wasn’t alone in forgetting what Epiphany was about. Out of all the seasons of the church year Epiphany is arguably the easiest to overlook. Fresh off the heels of the mega-celebration of Christmas, Epiphany doesn’t tend to get the same amount of publicity as other seasons. Now I’m not here to argue for Epiphany as the greatest season of the church year because there is no such thing. These seasons don’t work against one another but with each other to show us the multifaceted splendor of God to us, his dear children. As we open up to the verses in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus we see how true that is regarding the Epiphany season as well. Because as we do we see the mystery of God’s grace revealed; by the Spirit to His people, and through the Gospel to all nations!
As Christians, we are familiar with God’s grace. Every Sunday we gather in God’s house around His Word to grow in His grace. So as we read the opening to these verses it might be a surprise to us that Paul refers to God’s grace as “the mystery made known to him by revelation.” How was God’s grace a mystery to Paul? Was Paul saying he was a detective of sorts that had to solve this mystery on his own? Not at all. The opposite actually. Paul is saying here without revelation he would never understand what God’s grace was. Paul does not say that grace is mysterious, in the sense of it being unclear, hard to understand, or murky. Instead he refers to it as something that needs to be explained. After it has been explained it is very clear.
We see this explanation or revelation occur at Paul’s conversion. As Paul was on his way to Damascus to continue to terrorize and kill Christians he was stopped dead in his tracks by God. The Lord did not appear to punish Paul but to bring him to faith. Although Paul’s primary purpose was to persecute Christians, and in so doing persecute Christ, God did not repay evil with evil. Instead he opened Paul’s eyes to the beauty of his grace.
Paul says that this mystery that was revealed to him “was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” It’s important that we don’t misunderstand what Paul is saying here. He is not saying that he has received some kind of new grace or new revelation that was better than what the former prophets had received. He is not saying that Christ was unknown or known in a lesser manner in the Old Testament era than he knows it now. If he was then he would be contradicting the multitude of Old Testament prophecies regarding the promise of a messiah going all the back to Adam and Eve and he most certainly isn’t doing that. Paul is, however, saying that the mystery of God’s grace is revealed in a new manner. Rather than look ahead it looks back at what has been fulfilled. Rather than trusting in what is to come we trust in what has been done. The Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled and Paul tells us that opens up and reveals a beautiful truth to us: “this mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Christ.”
Wait a second. Is Paul saying that this is something new? That all of a sudden the Gentiles are included in the promise of the messiah? Weren’t they already? In God’s promise made to Abraham did he not say that “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed?”Did we not just hear Pastor read as Isaiah proclaimed, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you… all assemble and come to you?”The promise of the Messiah for ALLpeople has been around going back to Adam and Eve. Paul is not disagreeing with that. He is not saying that the Gentiles are all of a sudden beneficiaries of this grace that was only reserved for God’s chosen people. But he is saying that the title God’s peopleas it was reserved for the chosen nation of Israel is no more.
As you look back to the Old Testament it’s easy to see that that the nation of Israel was set apart. God himself called them his chosen people. It was his plan that through this lineage the savior of the nations would come. God protected and cared for his people in a special way that was different from the way he treated the gentiles who often opposed this plan and did all they could to thwart it. But that didn’t mean the promise wasn’t for them. When Christ came and fulfilled the plan of salvation he did it for all nations. The boundary between Jew and Gentile was destroyed. For Christ came and died for all.
What great news for the gentiles, right? What great news for us! I’m not sure any of us in here would be able to fall under the category of God’s holy bloodline of Jewish heritage and even if we would that’s not the point. The comfort in God’s grace is not knowing that you made the cut. That you passed all the requirements that were necessary to be called his child. If that were the case no one would be saved. The comfort comes in knowing that there are no requirements. There are no restrictions or limitations. By the power of the Spirit when God called you to faith he did not see a Jew, or Gentile, a Midwesterner, or a Wisconsinite, he saw a sinner whose sins were washed clean by the blood of the lamb. He now sees you as his dear child. Because that’s what you are! That is the beauty of God’s grace that has been revealed to Paul and is revealed to us!
What a blessing it is that God has revealed this grace to us by his Spirit. The beauty in our God is the fact that his grace never seems to end there. Just when we think that he has shown the ultimate amount of love to us he showers more on. We see this today as God not only calls us his holy people by the Spirit, but invites us to call others as well by means of sharing the gospel.
As Paul goes on he recounts the call that God gave to him to be a missionary to the Gentiles. In recounting his call Paul says “although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.” Paul clearly saw his ministry to the Gentiles as a gracious gift from God. Which is kind of shocking when you take the time and retrace what Paul went through because he shared the Gospel with them. First off, remember that Paul was writing this letter from prison, which had become his second home by now because of how often he was there. Remember that he was stoned and left for dead. He was also beaten and shipwrecked because of his ministry. How then can Paul call this a gracious gift? I’ll reread Paul’s words when he thinks of his calling, “although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me.” When Paul says this he is not saying, “look at how humble I am, and be more like me.” But he does want us to realize what a blessing it is that we have this calling to spread the Gospel as well. We stand in awe of the power of God that he uses us to spread his saving grace to all nations.
In our Gospel lesson today we heard about the Magi following the light of the star and bringing their riches to the baby laying in a manger. Today God calls us to bring the boundless riches of Christ to the ends of the earth. To proclaim the good news of the gospel that testifies to the light of the world to everyone we come in contact with. Not only is our calling beautiful but the message we share as well. How beautiful Paul words the message that we share: “the boundless riches of Christ.”Those riches are intended for all. By God’s grace he allows us to be his messengers.
As I think back to my confirmation exam it is funny that I truly believed that I was not going to be confirmed because I got a question wrong on a test. That in some way I had proven that I wasn’t a Christian because I didn’t know what Epiphany was. Unfortunately the Devil tries to convince us every day that our acceptance into God’s kingdom is limited to some and not others. That only certain people can be accepted into God’s family. As we look at these verses for today we can clearly see that is not the case. We know this because God’s grace has been revealed to every one of us. Through the Spirit we understand the truth that his grace is for all people. Through the Gospel we are Christ’s messengers who bring this wonderful truth to others that Christ may reveal it for them too. Amen.